16 Important Focus Areas That Support Children’s Literacy Development

As educators and parents who are concerned that your children should succeed in learning to become literate you are probably already doing many things in your home and social environment to assist your children’s literacy learning. The things that you can do at home will engage and encourage your children while complementing and supplementing the learning they are doing at school.

Literacy Focus Areas

1. Establishing a Literacy Environment at Home

Setting up a literacy centre in your own home can be as easy as devoting one corner of your children’s bedroom to this purpose. In this area you can include a range of resources that will engage your children with learning in reading and viewing, writing and spelling, and speaking and listening and create a ‘print rich’ environment that will support all aspects of their literacy learning.

2. How Does Print Work?

When young children are becoming familiar with books (usually we begin with picture books) they need to understand how the printed language works. We are accustomed to knowing these basic concepts as adults but our children take time to learn them.

3. Mastering Phonics (The Sounds of Language )

Phonics is the connection between letters and sounds in our language. Phonemes are the small units of sound that make up a word and graphemes are the way we write the sounds. In the English language we have only 26 letters in our alphabet but 44 different sounds, so we need to use two or more letters together to make some of these sounds. Also, there are approximately 120 ways of writing these 44 phonemes, which makes English pronunciation spelling, reading and writing somewhat challenging.

4. When to Read to Your Child, with Your Child or Let Him/Her Read Alone.

Reading is all about making meaning from what we read. Readability literally means how difficult a book is for a reader to read and access the meaning.

You may use the following basic rule:

  • EASY – if a child can read 95-100% of a text – ie there are no words, or up to 1 in 20 words, that present a challenge. A child can READ THIS BOOK ALONE
  • CHALLENGING – if a child can read 90-94% of a text – ie there are up to 1 in 10 words that present a challenge. A child can read this book with support. Read this book WITH the child
  • DIFFICULT – if a child can read 85% or less of a text – ie there 3 or more words in every 20 that present a challenge. The book it is too difficult. Read this book TO the child.

5. Supporting Children’s Understanding of What They Read

The purpose of all reading is to gain meaning and understanding from what we read. This understanding is referred to as ‘comprehension’.

When comprehension is successful, readers feel satisfied that they have understood the meaning of a text. When comprehension is unsuccessful there is a sense of frustration and confusion that the meaning of the text has not been understood.

6. Responding to Stories

When children have heard or read a story they may wish to reflect on and respond to that story by undertaking a speaking, listening, writing, drawing or craft activity to represent something significant to them eg a character, the setting, the story as a whole, or part of it; or may wish to create a story of their own based on the one that has been read. Through such activities a child will gradually build knowledge of ‘story language’ and how stories are constructed by authors.

7. Making the Best use of Everyday Text and ‘Junk Mail’

When considering reading, becoming literate citizens is not about children being able to read and understand only printed books. There are many different forms of text that are a part of our everyday lives and each day our mailboxes are filled with everyday texts and ‘junk mail’. It is very important that children are able to access how these texts are formed, for what purpose, and how to read and understand the messages their producers wish to convey to the reader. From them children learn purposes for reading – for enjoyment, to obtain information, to find directions, to learn how to do something, to make decisions and choices for daily living.

8. Creating Summaries and Overviews and Planning Using Graphic Organisers

When children are preparing to write an essay or undertake a research project or presentation they need to read, view, talk widely and use skimming and scanning skills to: obtain the information, summarise the main ideas, create an overview of their topic, construct the content of their project and present their learning. One of the best ways to capture information and structure an overview of a topic is by using a “graphic organiser” ie a diagram in which the information can be entered so as to bring structure to the content to be included. There are hundreds of these tools.

9. The Writing Process and Publishing

Children are often given learning tasks that require written or research work to be completed. Understanding what we know as ‘the writing process’ ( preparing to write, drafting, revising and editing, publishing), the use of a writer’s journal and contexts for writing will assist them and you.

10. Writing in a Social View of Language

As a parent, when your children are undertaking writing tasks, they may ask for your assistance when it comes to the correct usage of our language and its grammar. While a dictionary and thesaurus are both very useful books to have in the home, there are many good grammar reference books that are helpful also.

One such book is recommended:

A New Grammar Companion for Teachers – written by Beverly Derewianka

Published by e:lit – Primary English Teaching Association, April 2011

Available from the PETAA website http://www.petaa.edu.au/imis_prod/Publications

The approach to grammar in Australian schools is one in which mainly traditional grammar terminology is used within a social, or functional, view of language. This means that rather than just being able to identify the parts of speech and grammar (eg nouns, adjectives, verbs, phrases etc), which is still important, the focus is on how the language is used, what function each part serves, in bringing meaning to text.

11. Ideas for Stimulating Children’s Creative Writing

There is nothing more daunting for some children than to be faced with a blank piece of white paper and be given an instruction to write a story. When children have free choice for a writing activity, getting them to identify what they want to write about is the first step in the writing process. This is the pre writing phase and is a time for children to explore topics using a range of strategies before they begin to write.

12. Writing Essays

Many of the writing tasks that are required of secondary students take the form of an ‘essay’. Teachers may use the term ‘essay’ in a broad sense when referring to a lengthier piece of writing that requires the students to respond to a question or statement .

13. Some Literacy Websites

There are hundreds of websites that support literacy development: reading stories online; literacy games and activities online; stimulus for writing; poetry etc

14. Becoming a Super Speller

For many students, learning to spell is a complex process in which they are problem-solving to enable them to spell the words they want to use accurately. They are supported in this by understanding and gaining knowledge that some words:

  • can be sounded out
  • have regular patterns
  • have base meanings that can be built on
  • originate from a number of languages

15. Viewing as Literacy

‘Literacy’ has traditionally been regarded as the ability to read, write, spell, speak and listen. Such a view of ‘literacy’ has undergone a significant change, especially with the increasing access to information through various technologies. Much of what we access today is obtained through a range of visual media eg television, video, computer screen, internet, mobile device applications (apps) as well as the traditional visual media such as newspapers, magazines, picture books, posters, signs etc.

16. Speaking and Listening

Children learn to speak and listen well when parents and care givers:

  • expect them to use language well
  • speak WITH them not just AT them
  • model correct ways of speaking
  • provide them with numerous examples of language use
  • engage them in many opportunities to talk for a wide variety of reasons
  • accept their attempts at language use and praise and encourage them not just correct them
  • allow them to learn and experiment with language
  • show the connections between speaking and listening and the other facets of literacy – reading, writing, spelling and viewing

A recently published book gives access to hundreds of strategies and activities, in all sixteen of these focus areas, that you as a teacher, home schooler, parent, or caregiver can use in the classroom, home and social environment to support your children’s literacy development.

“Learning to Love Literacy” written by experienced teacher and literacy consultant Shirley Fuller.

Learning To Love Literacy - a Practical Guide for Parents

Shirley Fuller

Shirley Fuller is passionate about improving the learning outcomes of students from preschool to Year 12 and beyond. Her experience includes secondary mathematics, science and physical education teaching, primary teaching in all subjects, librarianship and resource centre coordination, tutoring students in mathematics at secondary level and in preparation for some university courses.

She holds a Public Service Medal for her contributions to education.

Shirley has written a comprehensive Guide for Parents to help support children’s literacy in the home and social environment.

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